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In Illinois, Another Workers' Rebellion Flares Up Against 'Banksters' Greed

In Illinois, a dozen union members blocked a road outside Wells Fargo’s local headquarters -- the latest in a wave of direct actions by workers.

Nine months have passed since workers at Republic Windows and Doors occupied their Chicago factory, demanded the severance and vacation pay owed them and ultimately pursuaded Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase to put up the funds.

It was heralded as a potential watershed in modern U.S. labor relations, and now is a natural time to ask what fruits that struggle has yielded.

There has not been an onslaught of factory occupations or worker uprisings. But there is at least one ongoing campaign that is inspired by, and in many ways parallel to, the Republic Windows action -- a campaign that's more wide-ranging and ambitious to boot.

That would be the "Roadblock to Recovery" campaign launched by Jobs with Justice and the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) union of Republic Windows fame, targeting Wells Fargo bank for failing to extend credit to struggling businesses after receiving federal bailout money.

Like Bank of America, Wells Fargo received $25 billion in taxpayer bailout funds last fall (Bank of America later received an additional $20 billion). Now the Roadblock to Recovery campaign is taking a page from the Republic Windows playbook and demanding Wells Fargo show taxpayers some ground-level results of their investment.

On July 9, a dozen UE workers from the Quad City Die Casting factory in Moline, Ill., blocked a road outside Wells Fargo's local headquarters. About 100 employees in this industrial heartland city along the Mississippi River are likely to lose their jobs this month unless Wells Fargo, the company's major creditor, extends financing until the company can find a buyer. The workers refused to leave the street until they were peacefully arrested and later paid $75 fines.

On May 11, the Quad City workers got notice that the 60-year-old company, which makes metal machine parts, would close on July 12.  A Chicago-area management company, High Ridge Partners, is essentially running the company under a state law that facilitates liquidation without declaring bankruptcy.

UE union officials say High Ridge reports to Wells Fargo. High Ridge did not return calls for this story. A Quad City Die Casting spokesperson declined to comment, and Wells Fargo spokeswoman Angela Kaipust said, "Wells Fargo is not involved in making decisions about the day-to-day finances and operations of Quad City Die Casting. We cannot comment further because our customer relationships are confidential."

Meanwhile, in an unfair-labor-practices charge filed July 7 with the National Labor Relations Board, the union alleges the company or its agents have violated their collective-bargaining agreement with the workers.

Workers' health insurance was terminated on May 13, with workers instead given a lump-sum payment that is not enough to pay for most families' medical care. The company or its "officers, agents and representatives," the charge says, is also refusing to pay medical bills incurred when employees did have health insurance, according to UE international rep Leah Fried, leaving them stuck with unexpected bills as they are about to lose their jobs. 

As at Republic Windows, Quad City Die Casting terminated workers' vacation benefits, meaning they will not get accrued vacation pay. And the NLRB complaint alleges that in retaliation for demanding their full vacation pay, the company or its representatives terminated a floating holiday guaranteed in the contract.

Additionally, management did not institute a contractually mandated 2 percent raise in June. Fried noted that even if the company closes as planned, the 2 percent raise would provide a little extra income to cash-strapped workers and would affect the level of unemployment compensation they are granted.

Although times are tough, workers and union leaders don't think the company needs to close.

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